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Diplomats ready to tap into opportunities for world

By Zhang Yunbi | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-03-05 07:46
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ZHONG JINYE/FOR CHINA DAILY

Global cooperation on public health crises, advancing the reform of global governance and preserving multilateralism are likely to top China's diplomatic agenda this year, according to senior diplomats, scholars and political advisers.

By doing so, the building of the community of a shared future for mankind will gain greater impetus and, in return, could help the world grasp more opportunities and minimize the economic and social impacts amid unprecedented downturns, they added.

The comments came as the world's second-largest economy takes the lead in the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, seeks to resume trade and logistics to bolster economic recovery and champions the authority of leading international organizations to preserve equity and justice worldwide.

Over the past year, diplomats like Zhang Qiyue, China's ambassador to Greece, have seen the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt social life and deal a heavy blow to economic development, causing serious losses globally.

Now, meetings with leaders and officials are high on Zhang's agenda to discuss ways to synergize needs to bolster the joint fight against the virus and chart new ways of revitalizing two-way exchanges in areas such as investment, trade and education.

Like many of her colleagues, Zhang, a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, is tracking the health of Chinese citizens working or living in Greece and listening to their appeals for help.

"It is believed that surviving the ordeal brought by this once-in-a-century epidemic will prompt all countries to learn from their experiences, draw lessons and improve their governance capacity in an all-around way. Based on this view, I am full of hope for this new year," Zhang said.

She noted that both China-Europe relations and ties between China and Greece "have forged ahead by conquering vast challenges" posed by the pandemic in the past 12 months.

"The past year has made us deeply aware that unity and cooperation is the only way to tackle common challenges," she said.

Early in January last year, China quickly shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus with the world, and global COVID-19 vaccine research and development advanced at unprecedented speed, achieving early successes.

China also joined the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access distribution plan that will promote research and development worldwide.

"The mutual support of medical supplies, the joint development of testing reagents and the sharing of diagnosis and treatment formulas between China and other countries have adequately illustrated the importance of international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic," Zhang said.

Xie Fuzhan, a member of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC and president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "In the era of economic globalization, public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic will never be the last one, and the mechanism for cooperation to deal with global challenges is in dire need of being strengthened."

It is possible for the world to build a broader cooperative mechanism and a network of trust as long as major countries bear in mind the community with a shared future for mankind during the global virus fight, translate compassion for people into action and do their utmost to defend vulnerable groups and countries on the frontiers of health, Xie told a symposium in Beijing recently.

"Doing so could allow the international community to give better play to the role of the World Health Organization and promote the construction of a global community of health for all," he said. Xie added that this doesn't even include reform of the World Trade Organization and the international financial and monetary system, and further exploring the rules of global governance.

Xie said attention should be paid to the equality issue in the process of economic recovery, as there is a risk that the gap between developed and developing economies could widen.

China is expected to participate more proactively in multilateral, bilateral and regional cooperation, and to achieve a higher level of win-win collaboration with other countries, he said.

Setting the agenda

Many deputies of the National People's Congress and political advisers have expressed the hope that China can be more deeply involved in the reform of global governance in the post-pandemic era and make its voice better heard.

Zhang Yuyan, a member of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC and director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of World Economics and Politics, said taking part in strengthening the global public health system is still a top task for the country's future engagement in global governance, which China has long been working on, such as its cooperation with the WHO.

Other issues high on the agenda for improving global governance include WTO reform and climate change discussions, Zhang Yuyan said.

As the one of the major diplomatic events that China will host (mainly offline) since the start of the epidemic, the annual meeting marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Boao Forum for Asia will focus on global governance.

Themed "A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation", the annual conference of the leading dialogue platform will be held in Hainan province, from April 18 to 21, hosting prominent officials, entrepreneurs and scholars.

While most of the gathering this year will be held offline, some events will be made available both offline and online to suit the needs of participants, given travel restrictions worldwide, organizers said.

Li Baodong, a member of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC and secretary-general of the Boao Forum for Asia, said the event "has developed into a high-end political and business dialogue platform with extensive international influence", playing an important role in promoting the process of globalization and regional integration.

Li, a former vice-foreign minister and a top diplomatic expert in multilateral affairs, said the world is undergoing remarkable changes that have not happened in a century, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges.

"But we believe that any great voyage will inevitably experience ups and downs, and as long as we unite as one, work together in the same boat, strengthen confidence and direction, and continue to innovate and develop, we will surely usher in a better future," he said.

According to an article by senior diplomat Yang Jiechi in People's Daily last month, also high on the agenda for China's preparations are the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference.

This year, China's diplomacy "should support the WHO to play a leading role, join hands with other countries to build a global community of human health, and further promote global cooperation in the fight against the pandemic", said Yang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee.

Yang underlined the need for effective international cooperation on vaccines, prioritizing developing countries' vaccine needs and resolutely opposing politicization and stigmatization in the name of the pandemic.

To jointly build the Belt and Road Initiative during the pandemic, Yang said it is necessary to hold meetings and forums online and offline, promote the construction of the Health Silk Road, secure trade along the routes, minimize the pandemic's impact and promote recovery.

Bracing for more growth

China's cooperation with various regions of the world is likely to embrace further growth this year, as trade with regions such as Southeast Asia and Latin America registered increases and a slew of changes in trade structures last year, despite the severe global economic downturn, observers said.

Trade between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grew by 7 percent year-on-year, while Latin America's exports to China grew by 0.1 percent, the General Administration of Customs said.

Qiu Xiaoqi, a member of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC and vice-president of the China Public Diplomacy Association, noted that Latin America's exports to the United States and the European Union fell by 14 percent and 13 percent respectively last year, while the region's trade with China has increased slightly amid the pandemic and resultant economic recessions.

This "highlights the economic complementarity between China and Latin America, and is also a very important driving force for Latin America's economic development", said Qiu, a former ambassador to Bolivia, Spain, Brazil and Mexico.

China is Latin America's second-largest trading partner, and Latin America is one of the regions with the fastest growth in exports to China, according to Qiu, who noted the growing diversity of bilateral trade amid the pandemic.

As the two sides in the past focused more on such products as manufactured, mechanical, electrical and resources-related items, many new goods have entered bilateral trade since the pandemic started and "exports in the medical sector increased rapidly". "This is a positive change," he said.

"It can be said that China has played an important role in ensuring the sustainable supply of medical supplies in Latin America and in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been widely praised and highly appraised by the governments and people of Latin American countries."

The past year has made Zhang Qiyue, the ambassador, realize that "the world economy has strong resilience" and that China has become an engine of global economic recovery.

"The new development paradigm and new development philosophy sought by China is bringing the world fresh opportunities for further cooperation," she said.

In Greece, the Port of Piraeus, a key hub run by Chinese businesses, maintains its status as the largest port in the Mediterranean and the fourth-largest in Europe.

In July, China became the EU's largest trading partner. On Dec 30, the two sides announced that negotiations on the China-EU Investment Agreement had ended on schedule.

"This landmark agreement is also of great significance in promoting the global economic recovery, and the lasting prosperity of trade between China and the EU has played an important role in reining in the pandemic and in restoring the economy in Europe," Zhang Qiyue said.

"Promoting economic globalization is still the common choice of the vast majority of countries," she noted.

"Even for trade between China and the United States, the (annual) total volume has increased by 5.8 percent to $524.3 billion. These convincing facts effectively negate theories that preach decoupling."

Looking ahead, Zhang Qiyue said 2021 is "a very important year for China".

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), the realization of a series of economic and social development goals "will inject strong impetus into China's sustained and strong economic growth and its continuous release of market potential, while bringing great opportunities to the world", she said.

"China's middle-income group means a population of more than 400 million and a vast domestic market, and with a major victory in poverty alleviation the market's potential will be further inspired, and China's cumulative commodity imports are expected to exceed $22 trillion in the next 10 years," Zhang Qiyue added.

"China will comprehensively raise its level of opening-up to the outside world and promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation. These measures will make China the market of the world; a market of sharing and a market for everyone."

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